(Feb. 26) LAS VEGAS — The National Watermelon Association is searching for a new executive director after Tracy Rosselle’s decision not to seek a contract renewal when his one-year agreement expires at the end of March.

Rosselle, the 90-year-old association’s first executive director, did not attend the NWA annual convention in Las Vegas Feb. 22-26. He cited personal reasons for his decision to leave the association.

“I've been thinking about it for a while,” said Rosselle, from his Plant City, Fla., home. “ ... I just don’t feel like I have the ability to have the energy that’s required for the job.”

He declined to elaborate, but several NWA board members cited health issues as a reason for Rosselle’s decision.

Rosselle notified NWA president Jody Land of his decision in mid-February, and board members voted at the annual convention on Feb. 25 to begin a national search. At the same time, they hired Rosselle’s assistant, Amanda Dixon, Plant City, as the association’s secretary-treasurer, and Laura Land, Jody Land’s wife, as executive secretary-treasurer.

Dixon’s role will include bookkeeping, secretarial and office management duties, and Laura Land said she’ll oversee the finances and administrative duties, roles that Rosselle focused on.

A year ago, the association moved its office from Morven, Ga., to Plant City, and Laura Land said Rosselle’s first year centered on the task of moving and other duties she and Dixon will handle, leaving the executive director free to tackle the group's long-term goals.

“He spent most of his time this year reorganizing that, and he’d just gotten to the point to move forward with the new position of NWA director,” Laura Land said. “He helped us start to move in a new direction at the NWA, and we hope to continue that with a new director, to pick up where he left off.”

When the association announced its decision to hire an executive director, officers said the goal was to increase support from other industries, including chemical/pesticide companies, increase membership and grower participation, and seek out grants for research and other activities.

Brent Jackson, the group’s first vice president, said board members want to move forward with the hiring process, and that despite Rosselle’s decision, the mood at the meeting was upbeat.

“It’s positive,” said Jackson, who will become president at the 2005 convention, when Jody Land’s two-year term expires. “We can respect (Rosselle’s decision), and we wish him the best.”

Jody Land said the group will continue to work on issues that concern growers, such as funding research at the University of Georgia on gummy stem blight and other diseases.

Jody Land said there’s no timeline established for hiring a new executive director.

Rosselle, who worked for The Packer for seven years and was its Eastern editor when hired by the NWA, said he’s keeping his options open.

“I’ve got some things in mind,” he said. “I may pursue some things that have nothing to do with the produce industry.”